Review: Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen (TIFF)
PLOT: Chen Zhen (Donnie Yen) returns from service in The Great War to discover that the Japanese occupation of China is growing. Wanting to fight these invaders, and unite his country, Chen Zhen goes underground, and adopts a masked persona- pitting himself against a blood-thirsty Japanese general, whose father Chen Zhen previously killed in order to avenge his master.
REVIEW: One of the great things about TIFF is that in addition to the heavier, Oscar worthy titles premiering at the fest, there were also a lot of fan boy-friendly, genre movies playing as well. One of my most eagerly anticipated films was LEGEND OF THE FIST, starring the incomparable Donnie Yen.
After blazing down the comeback trail with SPL, and FLASH POINT, Yen has really established himself as THE kung-fu star of a new generation. Unlike his contemporaries, Jet Li, and Jackie Chan, Yen seemingly has no real interest in breaking through to the American market, and he's been focusing on making kick-ass action flicks back in China. His greatest recent success has been the IP MAN series, both installments of which I caught at Fantasia in Montreal. Those are two of the best modern martial arts films I've seen in a while, and LEGEND OF THE FIST seems to be cut from the same cloth.
This is a big-budget, martial arts extravaganza, courtesy of director Andrew Lau, whose INFERNAL AFFAIRS was the basis for THE DEPARTED. LEGEND OF THE FIST seems to be the Chinese attempt at crafting a BATMAN-style franchise, with Chen Zhen adopting his costume from the iconic Kato outfit sported by Bruce Lee in THE GREEN HORNET. This is particularly appropriate, as Lee also played Chen Zhen in the immortal FIST OF FURY, which was then remade into a TV series starring Donnie Yen, to which this is the big-screen sequel (Jet Li himself played Chen Zhen in FIST OF LEGEND).
For the most part, I had a lot of fun with LEGEND OF THE FIST. The film starts off with one of the best martial arts sequences I`ve seen in years, with the unarmed Chen Zhen taking out a German artillery regiment in order to save his fellow Chinese labourers, trapped in the No Man`s Land hell of WWI. This action sequence is instantly classic, but might almost be too good as the rest of the film can't quite measure up (I wish the whole film had been set in WWI- which would have been a first for a martial arts film).
Once he gets back to Shanghai, and goes undercover as a Humphrey Bogart style nightclub owner, LEGEND OF THE FIST gets a tad talky for a martial arts flick. Yen`s certainly debonair enough to play the role, which is a nice departure from his more traditional heroes a la IP MAN, but the story is pretty much by-the-numbers. There`s a slight romantic subplot involving Yen falling for a Japanese spy (played by the gorgeous Shu Qi) that could have been very moving, but is a little too melodramatic until the solid payoff toward the end.
Throughout the choppy mid-section a lot of the fights, save for one amazing rain-storm set street brawl, are quick and cut to fit into montages. This put me off a bit, as I like my fights long and brutal. Luckily, this is rectified in the last thirty minutes, which is wall-to-wall bone-crunching action. One of my only issues with Yen is that often he allows himself to come across as too invincible on-screen. Here, he goes for the opposite, with Chen Zhen taking a vicious pummelling on one occasion, making his climatic rematch with the main villain all the more exciting.
So, other than a choppy mid-section, I`d say LEGEND OF THE FIST is a damn solid Donnie Yen movie, and a kung-fu extravaganza sure to please all fans of the genre. While I prefer both IP MAN films, as well as SPL, and FLASHPOINT, it`s nonetheless a solid piece of work on his behalf, and yet more evidence that while Li and Chan may have slowed down, Yen (despite being well into his forties) is still in his prime.
|Extra Tidbit:||Another great Yen movie from back in the day is IN THE LINE OF DUTY 4 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rMuwUtPPwT8)|